As former Murray State point guard Cameron Payne goes through his morning pre-draft workout at the IMG Academy in Florida, a number of insults are shouted at him.
“Nobody even knows who you are! You’re too small! You aren’t good enough to play in the NBA! No top programs recruited you out of high school! You can’t compete with the elite point guards!”
No, these aren’t haters or hecklers who are criticizing Payne. These are his IMG pre-draft coaches, yelling these things because the 2015 NBA Draft prospect loves to be taunted as he goes through his various drills and shooting exercises. The coaches also do this to see how he responds to the ribbing.
Rather than getting frustrated or distracted, the barrage of put-downs motivates him and he elevates his game. He clenches his teeth, and proceeds to hit shot after shot. With each make, he’s gaining confidence and yelling back.
“Keep talking!” Payne shouts. “I won’t miss if you keep talking. What else do you got?”
He loves following up each insult with a swish. After a little while, he steps far behind the NBA three-point line and continues to knock down jumpers with ease. Soon, he’s firing up shots with a lightning quick release and turning around to talk trash before the ball even goes in – Stephen Curry style.
As the verbal jabs keep coming and the shots keep falling, he’s no longer clenching his teeth or sporting a death stare. Now, he’s grinning and exuding swagger. He loves the reminders that he has been doubted his whole life, that nobody thought he’d be in this position. Yet here he is, several weeks away from turning his NBA dream into reality.
“It definitely fuels my fire,” Payne said with a smile when asked about this trash talking with his trainers. “I’m the underdog. I’ve been overlooked. When people say these things, it’s nothing new. I’ve heard it all before. I’m just here to do my Cam Payne thing.”
“I think it definitely motivates him and, look, he’s never been stopped,” said IMG Academy’s Head Skills Trainer Dan Barto. “His whole life he’s been told little things about his game, but he’s always found a way to succeed. Some of our coaches, who are former players themselves, have tried to get under his skin to see how high he can notch up [his game]. That’s something that a lot of the best players can do – the guys like Chauncey Billups, who I trained when I first started here, and Iman Shumpert, who I train every summer. Those guys have that same mode where as soon as you start talking trash, they’re like, ‘Okay, keep going. I’m going to show you. You’re going to end up looking bad.’ Cam is the same way.”
The insults directed at Payne seem laughable these days, since he was outstanding during his sophomore season at Murray State and he’s been equally impressive during the pre-draft process. Lately, he has been generating a lot of buzz and impressing NBA executives. He’s improving his stock and climbing draft boards rapidly, to the point that league sources believe he has a promise from a team picking in the lottery – perhaps even in the top 10. It seems inevitable that he’ll be selected very early on the night of June 25.
But it wasn’t long ago that some of those criticisms that were shouted were actually used to describe Payne and discredit his game, and that’s something he’ll never forget. He was a three-star recruit coming out of high school at Lausanne Collegiate School in Memphis, and he wasn’t even ranked nationally by some recruiting services. He was told that he didn’t have the size or talent to be a star in college, and bigger schools didn’t recruit him.
As a freshman at Murray State, he exceeded expectations and averaged 16.8 points, 5.4 assists, 3.6 rebounds and 1.7 steals. Out of curiosity, he wondered if his first-year success had put him on any future NBA mock drafts. He was still projected to go undrafted on some mocks and ranked extremely low on others. While he wasn’t surprised by this, he did see something that infuriated him while looking at the projections: A number of players whom he had destroyed on the court were ranked significantly ahead of him. Even though he believed making it to the NBA was a long shot given the questions about his game and his lack of exposure at a mid-major school, he was determined to showcase his talent and prove he was better than those players.
He did just that in his sophomore season with the Racers. He averaged 20.2 points, 6.0 assists, 3.7 rebounds and 1.9 steals while limiting his turnovers to 2.5 per game and improving his shooting percentages to 45.6 percent from the field and 37.7 percent from three-point range. He was named the Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Year and, most importantly, led Murray State to 29 wins and a top-25 ranking at one point during the season. With the team winning and his numbers jumping off the page, it was impossible for Payne to be overlooked any longer.
“The second half of this last NCAA season at Murray State is when I realized [I might make it to the NBA],” Payne said. “We were getting noticed and that’s one of the main things about getting to that level: you’ve got to get noticed. We were winning games. If we didn’t win games, Cameron Payne would still be at Murray State. But we won games and everything worked out. Like our coach always said, the more team accolades we get, the more individual accolades you get, and that’s what happened. A lot of players on our team were getting that exposure just because what we did as a team. That was all that really mattered – what we did as a team – and that got me great exposure.”
He carried the Racers all season, leading them in points, assists, steals, field goals and three-pointers. He also received more exposure because he had a number of monster performances that turned heads throughout the course of his second season.
On December 13, Payne had 32 points (on 10-19 shooting, including 4-7 from three), eight assists, five rebounds and two steals in a win over Evansville. On January 22, he posted 33 points (on 12-20 shooting, including 3-5 from three), five rebounds and four assists in a win over Eastern Illinois. One week later, he filled the stat sheet in a win over Eastern Kentucky, contributing 21 points (on 8-16 shooting), 10 rebounds, five assists and six steals. On February 28, he had 31 points (on 12-24 shooting, including 4-9 from three), eight rebounds, six assists and two steals in a win over Tennessee Martin.
He says he never thought playing in the NBA was a realistic possibility for him until several months ago. It was always something he dreamed about, but he never got his hopes up. Now, there’s no doubt he’ll be in the league next season. The only question is, how high will he be selected on draft night?
Payne admits that this last month and a half has been very strange for him. Executives (including some basketball legends) are praising his game, NBA players are treating him like a peer and fans are analyzing every tweet or video he posts for clues as to where he may land. For example, several fans tweeted their excitement to see Payne wearing Indiana Pacers shorts in a Vine of one of his daily IMG workouts (even though it’s common for prospects to keep the shorts that teams give them and continue to wear them during training). After years of being underrated, Payne is finally getting the attention he deserves and he’s still adjusting to that.
“I approach everything the same way, but I can tell you right now, it’s a big time difference,” Payne said of this last month. “It’s a big time difference going from, ‘Yeah, maybe he could get on the team,’ to, ‘Ah man, we’ve got to get him!’ For me to be [projected to go] in the lottery, it’s just a blessing. I cannot thank anybody else but God. He put me in that position. I didn’t see it coming and now that I’m here and in this position, I just want to work and keep getting better.”
He’s certainly buying into the process at the IMG Academy, where nearly every waking hour is dedicated to making him a better player and preparing him for the NBA. He was one of the first prospects to start his pre-draft training, arriving on the IMG campus in March, and he has been working extremely hard and making considerable progress ever since.
Each morning, he starts his day doing various drills and conditioning exercises on IMG’s football field. Then, he’s in the weight room for an hour (which he says is the most important part of his training schedule since he wants to bulk up). He then heads to the gym, where he goes through his first basketball workout of the day, which consists of a lot of shooting and head-to-head drills against other draft prospects. After a three-hour break, he’s back in the gym for his second on-court workout of the day, which is usually a five-on-five pickup game that features the other draft prospects as well as current NBA players (such as Utah’s Rodney Hood and Orlando’s Maurice Harkless among others). After that, he winds down by watching the playoffs, looking at game film or playing NBA 2K.
Also, IMG’s staff has him on a customized nutrition plan, so all of his meals are designed to ensure that he’s consuming the right foods. There are also off-court activities designed to improve his hand-eye coordination and media skills among other things.
Payne is enjoying the pre-draft grind and realizes that the work he’s doing will not only help him improve right now, but also potentially extend his playing career since he’s taking excellent care of his body.
“I’m definitely focused on my strength and nutrition,” Payne said. “Those are the two main things. In college, you don’t eat like you should, so I’m definitely here to work on improving the things that I put in my body. Like people always say, you can’t put 87 in a Porsche – you’ve got to put the right fuel in there. That’s what I’m doing here, finding out the certain foods that will keep my body going so I’ll be able to play all the way into my 40s. And I’ve got to get stronger because that will help every aspect of my game; my defense, that’s the main thing I need to work on, and I believe it comes along with strength. My focus is definitely the weight room and my nutrition.”
Barto and the rest of the IMG staff have been extremely impressed with Payne and the work he has been doing on and off the court.
“The first thing that stands out is that he’s the ultimate competitor,” Barto said. “You don’t move up as quickly as he has – from a mid-major player to a dominant college star to an NBA draft prospect – and dominate as many point guard categories as he did analytically without having something special about you. I just don’t see the kid not succeeding, and I see him being part of a championship run after a couple years in the NBA.
“His body continues to improve and so does his understanding of the nutrition it’s going to take to be an 82-game guy – or hopefully even more games – as a rookie. I think also there’s the small things [he’s improving] like little things about his shooting mechanics, how he finishes around the basket and his ability to change speeds. Some people, I think, question his quickness or his first step, but when he really focuses on changing speeds, none of that matters. He moves like a lot of the elite point guards in the NBA, where they find ways to get to open space.”
One aspect of Payne’s game that has exceeded expectations at IMG is his playmaking ability. The coaches rave about his court vision and passing, which weren’t always on display in college since he was often asked to score the ball at Murray State. Sure, there were times where he got others involved and made good passes. But he has taken his facilitating to another level now. When he’s in pick-up games with other NBA-caliber players, he’s playing like a traditional point guard and racking up assists.
“I think his ability to pass the ball is underrated,” Barto said. “Here, he’s been able to play with a lot of NBA players and players who’ve had success in the D-League, so he doesn’t need to score every time like he did at Murray State. I’ve seen enough of him in high-level pick-up games in this type of environment to see that with the extra space, the side pick-and-rolls and the high ball screens, he gives the ball up before the weak-side shot blocker gets there or he gives the ball up early when teams try to trap him. And that’s in just three weeks of work. When I visualize where he could be after a full year or two years of work and with how highly competitive he is, his ceiling is really tough to determine. It’s just so high.”
Advanced analytics support that Payne can be an excellent facilitator. Last season, he had the highest assist percentage of all the prospects ranked in Draft Express’ top 100, and he averaged 7.3 assists per 40 minutes despite the fact that he wasn’t surrounded by top-tier teammates like some of the other draft prospects who went to larger schools. It’s becoming clear that Payne is a well-rounded point guard who can fit with just about any team since he can thrive in a number of different roles.
“[The team that drafts me] is going to get an all-around great point guard, a point guard who can do anything that the team needs,” Payne said. “I’ll do whatever the coach asks. In college, Coach [Steve] Prohm told me, ‘I need you to score a little more,’ and that’s what I did. When I get into the NBA, if I’m to sit in the corner and shoot threes, that is what I’m going to do. If I’m needed to be a lock down a defender, I’m going to work on my defense and do that. Anything the coaches need, that’s what Cameron Payne is going to do.”
If Payne’s journey sounds familiar, it’s because his ascent is very similar to that of fellow mid-major point guards Damian Lillard and Elfrid Payton. Like Payne, Lillard and Payton were being projected as second-round picks before thriving in their final collegiate season and in draft workouts, which allowed them to climb draft boards and eventually be selected No. 6 and No. 10, respectively. When asked who can be this year’s Lillard or Payton, Payne doesn’t hesitate.
“I believe it’s definitely me,” Payne said. “The reason [I wasn’t noticed] is because we are a mid-major program so we don’t get put on T.V. every day and people don’t talk about you every day. Now, we go into these meetings and all they want to know is, ‘Cameron Payne, who are you? Tell me something about you.’ Now, there’s so many good things that [are mentioned with] my name and people say, ‘I mean, how could you not like that guy?’ In this process, your personality comes out and shows because the people get to know you. That changes their whole perception about you and then when they get to know you, they start to watch more games. Then they say, ‘Okay, this guy can ball and he has a great personality. He’s this, he’s that.’
“That’s how I feel those players [like Lillard and Payton] move up. It’s also because they worked hard for everything they got. I haven’t been in that spotlight before and now that I am, I’m not going to take that spotlight for granted. I’m going to be the one who takes advantage of this, because that’s what I did going into college – I took advantage of my opportunity and did the best I could. Now I’m on this stage and I’m going to do the same.”
Payne has studied Lillard’s game and he may work out with Payton at some point in the next few weeks, since the Orlando Magic point guard is planning to spend some time training at IMG with his teammate Harkless.
Payne spends a significant amount of time watching NBA games and breaking down film, and Lillard is just one of many elite point guards he studies.
“I definitely study Chris Paul,” Payne said. “He has some high-flyers on his team and he knows how to keep them involved. I’ve talked to a lot of NBA general managers and they say they really count on paint touches, and Chris Paul gets into the paint almost every possession. I definitely watch him a lot and I try to see how he comes off ball screens and things like that, because he’s one of the best point guards in the league right now along with Steph Curry and Russell Westbrook and Damian Lillard – I’m not trying to leave anybody out. But Chris Paul has been there and done it [for years]. He’s played at a high level and [makes his teammates perform] at a high level. He gets everybody involved and he makes his team better. Like when he was with the New Orleans Hornets, he took them to the playoffs in the Western Conference. He definitely does his job and I feel like that’s the type of player I am.”
Soon, Payne hopes to hear his name mentioned in the same sentence as those superstar point guards. He’s an extremely confident player and he has very high expectations for himself, so one of his goals is to be an elite floor general in the league.
“I just want to be one of the best point guards in the NBA; that’s my goal,” Payne said. “Down the road, if God blesses me to, I definitely want to be an All-Star. All of that’s going to come with hard work and lot of humbleness, and I’m down for it. I’ve been doing it my whole life, so I’m just going to keep grinding.”
Doubt him at your own risk.
Georgetown Prospect Omer Yurtseven is Ready for Center Stage
Omer Yurtseven spoke with Drew Maresca about playing for coach Patrick Ewing, training for the NBA during a pandemic and why he feels he’s the best center in the 2020 draft class.
Omer Yurtseven, the 7-foot tall, Georgetown center, posted an impressive junior season in 2019-20; he averaged 15.5 points, 9.8 rebounds and 1.5 blocks. With legitimate NBA size and skills, it’s no mystery why he’s confident. “I don’t think anyone has my combination of tools and versatility,” Yurtseven recently told Basketball insiders. But he’s also a student of the game –well aware of the game’s history and where it’s headed.
“I wouldn’t put anyone ahead of me. I haven’t seen anyone with the tools that I have. I can shoot the ball, the three-ball, and that’s where the big man is headed,” Yurtseven said.
But he’s not satisfied with what he’s accomplished thus far. He wants more. And he understands that he’ll have to continue working to ensure his spot in the league.
“Some guys might be more athletic [than me], but there are a lot of athletic bigs in the league who don’t stick,” Yurtseven continued. “The skillset is just as important, if not more. So is the [willingness to put in] the work. I think I’m better or as good as any other players, and my rookie year, that’s my goal, to prove that.”
Yurtseven transferred to Georgetown from N.C. State in 2018 after a successful Sophomore season in which he shot over 50 percent on three-point attempts. He sat out the 2018-19 season voluntarily to play for Georgetown and coach Patrick Ewing. The opportunity to work with the Hall of Famer was too good to pass up.
“That’s what I was looking for coming in [working with Ewing]. I needed someone to see the game from my perspective,” Yurtseven said. “I was looking for that feedback and I demanded to be coached. I wanted to learn from him. The thing he stayed on me the most about was the pace of the game and how quick my moves would have to be at the next level.
“The turnaround jumper was one of his major weapons,” Yurtseven continued. “He was ahead of his time, but he wanted to see me do the same thing and give 100 percent effort every time.”
Yurtseven jumper is a major weapon in his arsenal, so a pairing with Ewing was an obvious fit. His numbers remained strong during his junior year season with Georgetown, but with one glaring drop off – three-point percentage. Ewing demanded that Yurtseven operate from the low post, a role that the prospect didn’t love, but accepted. Could a new role be to blame for a down shooting year? Yurtseven would never blame anyone other than himself, especially not Ewing. But it’s clear that he felt like he could have done even more if given the opportunity.
“The biggest thing is, I played how I played because that was the role demanded of me. All I had to do was be the inside presence, the defense collapser, and we had to stick to the strategy that coach thought was best for the team.
“I would love to have caught the ball at the top a little more,” Yurtseven continued. “But I was happy to be the post guy. I knew I had to get into my moves quick, so that’s what I did. I sacrificed what I think is my best skills for the team, and I was fine with it.”
It’s evident that Yurtseven is a team-first guy but his three-point shooting took a significant hit. As mentioned above, Yurtseven shot 50 percent on 1.3 three-point attempts as a sophomore in 2017-18, but only 21.4 percent on only half an attempt from long range per game in 2019-20. However, it’s not in his nature to look back – only ahead.
“That’s been my main focus,” Yurtseven told Basketball Insiders. “In April, I was shooting 30 or 40 percent two steps behind the college three. That percentage has added up 5 or 10 percent each month. Doing it isn’t easy, but it pays off and that’s why we do it. Now I’m at 75 or 80 percent (in practice sessions) and I’m really confident in my ability.
“And that’s the most important skill set for big men right now,” Yurtseven said. “You’ve got to be a perimeter shooter, as well as a perimeter defender, because big men are evolving away from the rim.”
Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, Yurtseven – and all of the 2020 class – received longer than normal between the end of the 2019-20 NCAA season and the 2020 NBA Draft. And while mock drafts have slowly whittled down the number of prospects, Yurtseven is working tirelessly to improve his stock in any way possible. impressive game.
“No one knew this offseason would be so long. It’s been 6, 8 months already,” Yurtseven continued. “But the team around me has been a blessing – coordinating workouts and making sure I’m taking steps to improve, from nutrition to training lateral quickness to shooting.
“It’s speed and agility, studying the game and having the knowledge about how to position yourself,” Yurtseven continued. “It’s timing and positioning and footwork. It’s all pieces of the puzzle. But the league is another level than college. That’s why I’ve been preparing, increasing lateral quickness, strengthening my glutes, making sure my quads and hips are firing well and that my lateral push-off is explosive as I want.”
“And seeing it translate on the court in two-on-twos and three-on-threes. Switching on guards and providing I can do it to myself. It’s been really fun and fulfilling.”
Yurtseven could have opted to play professionally in Europe – he had numerous professional offers as an 18-year-old prior to coming to joining N.C. State. But Yurtseven is driven by more than money and fame. He is family-oriented and understands the long game. His parents wanted him to receive a college degree before pursuing basketball – a decision that Yurtseven is happy to have made.
“The education was the main reason [I chose to play in the NCAA]. My family’s dream was that I get a college degree.
“When I was 18, [Turkish teams] offered me a huge contract. I’ve never seen so many zeros in my life,” Yurtseven continued.
“Now it’s time to chase my dream. And my team, my circle, it’s our goal to find a franchise that allows me to grow into a player for 10-plus years – and I’ll never stop working at it.”
Where Yurtseven ultimately plays is anyone’s guess – but he’s already spoken with 17 NBA teams.
Whatever franchise selects the center will add a hard-working and versatile big man that looks well-suited for the modern game – or he may not be selected at all. Yurtseven is currently ranked outside the top 50 according to some mocks – but if he gets an opportunity, he knows how he’d like to play.
“My aim is to get a double-double, year one,” Yurtseven told Basketball Insiders. “And, of course, guarding 1 through 5 is another big thing that coaches are looking for. Look at the Bucks, they were ranked first in offense (in 2019-20). Most of their points come from spot-ups. Defenses collapse on Giannis and Middleton – and Brook Lopez stays alone in the corner. I think that’ll be where I get my shots, too.”
Only three rookies in the past 10 years have averaged a double-double in their first season in the league – Blake Griffin, Karl-Anthony Towns, Deandre Ayton. That’s an elite club in which Yurtseven is seeking membership. Can he surprise the basketball world? Only time will tell.
There isn’t much data on him against elite big men. But there is one relevant contest worth examining: a Nov. 22 matchup against Duke and Vernon Carey, who is projected to be drafted No. 26 overall by Basketball Insiders.
Carey filled the stat sheet with 20 points and 10 rebounds, but so did Yurtseven (21 points, five rebounds and four blocks). That night, his entire repertoire was on full display – decisive drop steps, smooth turnaround jump shots over both shoulders, baby hooks, midrange jumpers and hard-nosed defense.
“He was the only true big man that I played against,” Yurtseven recalled. “He was quick and Duke did a good job putting the ball in his hands as soon as he stepped in the paint. I had to exert a lot of energy keeping him off his spot, but I adjusted quickly.
“I figured he would be very strong, but he ultimately didn’t feel as strong as I expected. My maturity and strength helped me a lot.”
Yurtseven’s skill and build render him tailor-made for the NBA. But for most, sticking at the professional peak is about more than skill and body. IQ, on and off of the floor, play a major role, too.
“A lot of guys [in this draft class] haven’t played many games,” Yurtseven told Basketball Insiders. “Having a college degree and that experience is a huge tool.
“Playing overseas as a pro is another layer of experience that I have compared to these guys. My IQ has improved. Those one-and-done guys are gonna be thrown into the fire, but I’ll be more ready.
“I saw a study,” Yurtseven explained. “Guys that come in 21-and-under stay in the league two or three years on average. Guys that come in and are 21-or-older stay seven or eight years on average. That just shows how much time it takes to mature your game.”
Comparatively, only four players were 22 or older as on draft night in 2019 – Yurtsevein is 22.
At the end of the day, it will be about how he performs on the court, and he’s comfortable with that.
“If I get drafted, I’ll be the first guy coming out of Turkey with a college degree,” Yurtseven said proudly.
“I’m ready for the next step. I appreciate everyone wishing me luck and supporting me from afar. I can’t wait to show my game’s evolution and reap the benefits of all of the work I’ve put in.”
NBA Daily: Tyronn Lue is the Right Coach for the Clippers
Is Lue the right coach for the Los Angeles Clippers? David Yapkowitz thinks so.
When Doc Rivers was first hired by the Los Angeles Clippers in 2013, the expectation was that he would be the one to guide the franchise into respectability. A laughingstock of the NBA for pretty much their entire existence, marred by bad coaching, bad management and bad ownership, Rivers was supposed to help change all of that.
For the most part, he did.
Rivers arrived from the Boston Celtics with the 2008 championship, and he helped the Celtics regain their standing as one of the NBA’s elite teams. The Clippers were a perennial playoff contender under him and were even in the conversation for being a possible championship contender. The Lob City Clippers led by Chris Paul and Blake Griffin certainly were talked about as being a title contender, and this season’s group led by Kawhi Leonard and Paul George were definitely in the mix as well.
Not only did Rivers steady the team on the court though, but he was also a very steadying presence off the court. He guided the franchise through the Donald Sterling controversy and he was a positive voice for the team as they navigated the bubble and the ongoing charge for social reform in the country.
But when things go wrong with a team, the coach is usually the one who ends up taking the fall. While Rivers did bring the Clippers to a level of respectability the franchise has never known, his record was not without blemishes. Most notably was his team’s inability to close out playoff series’ after holding three games to one on advantages two separate occasions.
In 2015, the Clippers had a 3-1 lead over the Houston Rockets only to squander that lead and lose Game 7 on the road. In Game 6, their shots stopped falling and neither Paul nor Griffin could do anything to halt the Rockets onslaught.
This season, in an incredibly similar fashion, the Clippers choked away a 3-1 lead over the Denver Nuggets and ended up getting blown out the second half of Game 7. Just like before, the offense stalled multiple games and neither Leonard nor George could make a difference.
There were also questions about Rivers’ rotations and his seeming inability to adjust to his opponents. In the end, something had to change, and whether it’s right or wrong, the coach usually ends up taking the fall.
Enter Tyronn Lue. Lue, like Rivers, is also a former NBA player and has a great deal of respect around the league. He came up under Rivers, getting his first coaching experience as an assistant in Boston, and then following Rivers to the Clippers.
He ended up joining David Blatt’s staff in Cleveland in 2014, and when Blatt was fired in the middle of the 2015-16 season, Lue was promoted to head coach. In the playoffs that year, Lue guided the Cavaliers to victory in their first 10 playoff games. They reached the Finals where they famously came back from a 3-1 deficit against the 73-9 Golden State Warriors to win the franchise’s first championship.
The Cavaliers reached the Finals each full year of Lue’s tenure as head coach, but he was let go at the start of the 2018-19 season when the team started 0-6 after the departure of LeBron James.
In the 2019 offseason, Lue emerged as the leading candidate for the Los Angeles Lakers head coaching job, before he ultimately rejected the team’s offer. After rejoining Rivers in LA with the Clippers for a year, he once again emerged as a leading candidate for multiple head coaching positions this offseason before agreeing to terms with the Clippers.
Following the Clippers series loss to the Nuggets, many players openly talked about the team’s lack of chemistry and how that may have played a factor in the team’s postseason demise. Adding two-star players in Leonard and George was always going to be a challenge from a chemistry standpoint, and the Clippers might have secured the perfect man to step up to that challenge.
During his time in Cleveland, Lue was praised for his ability to manage a locker room that included James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. In Game 7 against the Warriors, Lue reportedly challenged James at halftime and ended up lighting a fire that propelled the Cavaliers to the championship.
Lue’s ability to deal with star egos isn’t just limited to his coaching tenure. During his playing days, Lue was a trusted teammate with the Los Angeles Lakers during a time when Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant weren’t seeing eye to eye. He also played with Michael Jordan during Jordan’s Washington Wizard days.
Now, he’ll be tasked with breaking through and leading the Clippers to a place where no Clipper team has ever been before. He’ll be expected to finish what Rivers was unable to accomplish and guide the Clippers to an NBA championship.
For one, he’ll have to change the Clippers offensive attack. This past season, the Clippers relied too much on an isolation heavy offense centered around Leonard and George. That style of play failed in the playoffs when after failing to adjust, the Clippers kept taking tough shot after tough shot while the Nuggets continued to run their offense and get good shots.
With the Cavaliers, Lue showed his ability to adjust his offense and work to his player’s strengths. In the 2018 Playoffs, Lue employed a series of off-ball screens involving Love and Kyle Korver with James reading the defense and making the correct read to whoever was in the best position to score.
When playing with James, the offense sometimes tends to stagnate with the other four players standing around and waiting for James to make his move. Lue was able to get the other players to maintain focus and keep them engaged when James had the ball in his hands. Look for him to try and do something similar for when either Leonard or George has the ball in their hands.
He’s already got a player on the roster in Landry Shamet who can play that Korver role as the designated shooter on the floor running through off-ball screens and getting open. Both Leonard and George have become efficient enough playmakers to be able to find open shooters and cutters. That has to be Lue’s first task to tweak the offense to find ways to keep the rest of the team engaged and active when their star players are holding the ball.
The defensive end is going to be something he’ll need to adjust as well. The Clippers have some of the absolute best individual defensive players in the league. Leonard is a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, George was a finalist for the award in 2019 and Patrick Beverley is a perennial All-Defensive Team selection.
When the team was locked in defensively this season, there wasn’t a team in the league that could score on them. The problem for them was they seemingly couldn’t stay engaged on the defensive end consistently enough. The other issue was Rivers’ inability to adjust his defense to his opponent. Against the Nuggets, Nikola Jokic had a field day whenever Montrez Harrell was guarding him.
Lue’s primary task will be to get this team to maintain their defensive intensity throughout the season, as well as recognize what matchups are and aren’t working. Both Ivica Zubac and JaMychal Green were more effective frontcourt defenders in the postseason than Harrell was. Look for Lue to play to his team’s strengths, as he always has, and to trot out a heavy dose of man-to-man defense.
Overall, Lue was the best hire available given the candidates. He’s got a strong rapport among star players. He’s made it to the finals multiple times and won a championship as a head coach. And he already has experience working with Leonard and George.
Given the potential free agent status of both Leonard and George in the near future, the Clippers have a relatively small window of championship contention. Lue was in a similar situation in Cleveland when James’ pending free agency in the summer of 2018 was also a factor. That time around, Lue delivered. He’ll be ready for this new challenge.
NBA Daily: The Lakers’ Third Scorer Is By Committee
The Los Angeles Lakers have a whole unit of third scoring options – and that’s why they’re one win from an NBA Championship.
One of the biggest questions surrounding the Los Angeles Lakers once the NBA bubble began was who was going to pick up the mantle of being the third scoring option.
Even before the 2019-20 season began, it was obvious that LeBron James and Anthony Davis would be the primary offensive weapons, but every elite team with championship aspirations needs another player or two they can rely on to contribute on the offensive end consistently.
The obvious choice was Kyle Kuzma. In his third year in the NBA, Kuzma was the lone member of the Lakers’ young core that hadn’t been shipped elsewhere. His name had come up in trade rumors as possibly being included in the package to New Orleans for Davis, but the Lakers were able to hang on to him. He put up 17.4 points per game over his first two seasons and had some questioning whether or not he had All-Star potential.
For the most part this season, he settled into that role for much of this season. With Davis in the fold and coming off the bench, his shot attempts dropped from 15.5 to 11.0, but he still managed to be the team’s third scorer with 12.8 points per game.
But here in the bubble, and especially in the playoffs, the Lakers’ role players have each taken turns in playing the supporting role to James and Davis. Everyone from Kuzma to Alex Caruso, to Dwight Howard, to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, to Markieff Morris and even Rajon Rondo have had games where they’ve given the team that additional scoring boost.
Earlier in the bubble, James himself said they need Kuzma to be the team’s third-best player to win, but Kuzma himself believes that it’s always been by committee.
“We don’t have a third scorer, that’s not how our offense is built. Our offense is really AD and Bron, and everyone else plays team basketball,” Kuzma said on a postgame media call after Game 4 of the Finals. “We’ve had a long season, hopefully by now, you’ve seen how we play. Everyone steps up at different times, that’s what a team does.”
On this particular night, when the Miami HEAT got a pregame boost with the return of Bam Adebayo and wealth of confidence from their Game 3 win, it was Caldwell-Pope who stepped up and assumed the mantle of that third scoring option.
He finished Game 4 with 15 points on 50 percent shooting from the field and 37.5 percent from three-point range. He also dished out five assists and grabbed three rebounds. Perhaps his most crucial moments of the game came late in the fourth quarter with the Lakers desperately clinging to a slim lead and the Heat not going away.
He hit a big three-pointer in front of the Miami bench with 2:58 to go in the game, and then followed that up with a drive the rim and finish on the very next possession to give the Lakers some breathing room.
Caldwell-Pope has been one of the most consistent Lakers this postseason and he’s been one of their most consistent three-point threats at 38.5 percent on 5.3 attempts. He was actually struggling a bit with his outside shot before this game, but he always stayed ready.
“My teammates lean on me to pick up the energy on the defensive end and also make shots on the offensive end…I stayed within a rhythm, within myself and just played,” Caldwell-Pope said after the game. “You’re not going to knock down every shot you shoot, but just staying with that flow…Try to stay in the rhythm, that’s what I do. I try not to worry about it if I’m not getting shots. I know they are eventually going to come.”
Also giving the Lakers a big offensive boost in Game 4 was Caruso who had a couple of easy baskets at the rim and knocked down a three-pointer. He’s become one the Lakers best off the ball threats as well, making strong cuts to the rim or drifting to the open spot on the three-point line.
He’s had his share of games this postseason when it’s been his turn to step up as the Lakers additional scoring threat. During Game 4 against the Houston Rockets in the second round, Caruso dropped 16 points off the bench to help prevent the Rockets from tying the series up. In the closeout Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals against the Denver Nuggets, he had 11 points and finished the game in crunch time.
For him, it’s about staying ready and knowing that the ball is eventually going to come to whoever is open. When that happens, it’s up to the role players to take that pressure off James and Davis.
“Our third star or best player is whoever has the open shot. We know what AD and LeBron are going to bring to the table every night. They’re going to get their attention, they’re going to get their shots,” Caruso said after the game.
“It’s just about being ready to shoot. We have two of the best passers in the game, if not the best, so we know when we are open, we are going to get the ball. We have to be ready to do our job as soon as the ball gets to us.”
And if the Lakers are to close out the series and win the 2020 NBA championship, head coach Frank Vogel knows that it’s going to take a collective effort from the rest of the team, the way they’ve been stepping up all postseason.
“We need everybody to participate and contribute, and we’re a team-first team,” Vogel said after the game. “Obviously we have our two big horses, but everybody’s got to contribute that’s out there.”
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